University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Research Highlights

CASA - New radar network detects low-altitude weather phenomena better than NEXRAD

The goal of Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA), chartered in 2003 by the National Science Foundation Engineering Center, works to overcome the limitations of today’s weather detection and forecasting systems by building a denser, networked system of radars to better sample the lower atmosphere, where most weather forms. CASA recently designed and deployed an end-to-end, distributed-collaborative adaptive radar network in Oklahoma’s “Tornado Alley.” In research trials it demonstrated a set of observing capabilities fundamentally better than the current operational national radar system. The test bed recently captured a tornado during a severe thunderstorm, enabling experimental observers using the data to issue a mock tornado warning three minutes prior to that provided by the National Weather Service. Trials such as this point to the promise of CASA’s distributed adaptive technology to contribute to better, more accurate, and timely warnings to help save lives and enhance public safety.

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Nanoscale Application Specific ICs

Professor Andras Moritz’s research group focuses on nanofabrics, based both on new types of charge-based electronics as well as magnetic spin waves. The Nanoscale Application Specific IC (NASIC) fabric, a concept developed by his group, relies on 2-D grids of semiconductor nanowires with computational streaming supported from CMOS. Built-in fault tolerance is added at many levels to mask defects and slow components caused by fabric irregularities, even in the presence of defect rates ten orders of magnitude higher than in conventional CMOS. Partial self-assembly is made possible by fabric circuits that rely on uniform single-type devices aligned inside a 2-D grid rather than being individually sized and placed. New types of architectures, such as stream processors and neuromorphic systems, are being targeted and explored on NASICs theoretically.

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2009 NSF CAREER Awards

The National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award is amongst the most prestigious awards a young faculty member can receive. In 2009, ECE Professors Hossein Pishro- Nik and Eric Polizzi each received $400,000 CAREER Awards.

Vehicular Ad-Hoc Networks

Hossein Pishro-Nik is working on a system that automobile manufacturers have always dreamed of creating: a wireless communication network to prevent cars from crashing into one another. His NSF CAREER proposal focuses on the theoretical and mathematical framework for this kind of anti-crash system. “The idea is to equip cars with wireless communication capabilities so they communicate with one another,” explains Pishro-Nik. “We use this network to prevent accidents and also send traffic-congestion information to drivers. It is predicted this new capability can significantly improve the safety and efficiency of the transportation system.” While Pishro-Nik’s research is theoretical, he is in an excellent position to validate his mathematical results. He and his collaborators at UMass Amherst’s Transportation Engineering Group have built a test bed and have access to a large set of real traffic data.

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Computational Nanoelectronics

Eric Polizzi received his NSF CAREER to create a new suite of computer simulation methods to tackle the challenges created by designing, modeling, and testing nano-devices that become more miniaturized every year. Polizzi’s research can be applied to simulations ranging from material sciences and chemistry to nano-electronics and bio-nanotechnology. “Making devices such as silicon nanowire, carbon nanotube transistors, nanoribbons, or some combination of them requires a lot of experimental research,” says Polizzi. “Simulations become more and more important because they’re flexible and much less expensive than experimentation.” Polizzi’s methods will allow an order-of-magnitude speedup in the modeling stage, critically important for designers of devices, circuits, and chips who run numerous simulations in search of the best design. Polizzi’s modeling methods will also be essential for understanding the fundamental physics governing the operation of such novel nano-devices.

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Embedded Security

Ubiquitous computing is becoming a reality, thanks to the ongoing miniaturization of wireless computing components and reductions in their cost and energy requirements. But this trend has its downside. These very lightweight, networked components, often referred to as “the perimeter of the Internet,” are vulnerable to malicious assaults aimed at stealing sensitive information and resources or disabling or compromising functionality. And since embedded computing is applied in medical, transportation, and other life-critical systems, such cyberattacks can directly threaten human safety. As a result, cryptographic-based security and privacy-preserving protocols are being applied to low-energy computing systems such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, smart-cards, and intelligent sensors. A number of high-profile attacks on such cryptosystems, however, have shown that new techniques are needed to ensure security and privacy. At UMass Amherst, ECE Professor Wayne Burleson is leading a multi-disciplinary group to explore the new research area of embedded security. The group consists of faculty from ECE, Computer Science, and Civil Engineering as well as industrial colleagues from RSA Labs, ThingMagic, Intel, and IBM.

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MIRSL Takes Part in Major Tornado Study

ECE’s nationally recognized Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory (MIRSL) played a critical role in an historic study to explore the origin, structure, and evolution of tornadoes, a project which took place in the spring of 2009 across the central United States. The project, named the Verification of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2 (VORTEX2), was the largest attempt in history to study tornadoes. It used more than 50 scientists and 40 research vehicles, including 10 mobile radars. VORTEX2 is funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and involves scientists from NOAA, 10 universities, and three nonprofit organizations. The main objective of the MIRSL work is “to understand better the dynamics and kinematics of severe convective storms and the tornadoes they sometimes spawn.” MIRSL operated two mobile Doppler radars during the project: UMass Amherst’s mobile W-band radar and mobile, polarimetric, X-band radar.

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